2018-07-12 / Front Page

Short-Term Rentals Subcommittee Meets

By Andy Long

The Newport Planning Board’s subcommittee, the Short-Term Rental Investigatory Group, held its first workshop on June 28, with the mission of exploring the challenges Newport faces with the growth of short-term rentals (or STRs), and to recommend policies to help the city regulate this form of lodging.

An STR is any dwelling or lodging space rented for less than 30 days. In Newport, that means a hotel room, a bed-and-breakfast, a single-family home, or a spare bedroom.

Airdna.com, which tracks STRs listed on Airbnb.com, an online vacation rental service, shows that 638 units were available in Newport on July 9. Homeaway.com, another online rental service, lists 25-30.

According to City Clerk, Laura Swistak, in a July 11 email to NTW, 742 have been identified as a short- term rentals by Host Compliance, but she was not able to provide the number of units out of compliance.

In the April 19 edition of NTW, it was reported that City Councilor Jamie Bova said, “I would like to point out the successes we’ve had with Host Compliance [a short-term rentals compliance oversight company]. They were able to identify 637 rentals and determine the addresses of 337 of them, and 237 were identified as non-compliant. The city has been working to bring the non-compliant units into compliance.”

Jeffrey Brooks, chairman of the subcommittee, a local realtor and a member of the Planning Board, said in a telephone interview with NTW that the increasing number of STRs in Newport is “getting out of hand,” that the growth of this practice has outpaced Newport’s ability to regulate it. “Everyone’s doing it willy-nilly,” he said.

On the other hand, renting a spare bedroom or even an entire house can be a great opportunity to generate income, he said.

Bova, also a member of the subcommittee, said, “I don’t want to totally outlaw them in Newport.”

The first task is to define what constitutes a short-term rental, Brooks said. “Newport is the only city [in Rhode Island] to still call them guest houses.”

He said that there are differences between operators such as Chris Bicho, of Newport, with a large portfolio of properties (See “Year-Rounders Sound Off on Short-term Rentals, NTW, June 21, 2018), and homeowners who rent out a spare bedroom occasionally. Yet the two are now being regulated the same way in the city’s zoning and safety codes; this, he says, dictates a reconsideration of the codes.

Another topic being addressed by the subcommittee is the absence of property owners from the properties. “Does having hosts in the house affect the behavior of the guests?” Bova asked.

Property owners or a representative are not currently required to be on-site when a unit is rented.

Over its next four meetings, the subcommittee plans to address a range of issues, including determining who is most affected by the growth of short-term rentals in the city.

Future topics will include noise levels, how neighborhoods are affected, taxes, housing affordability and rental rates when units are taken off the market to become short-term rentals.

The other members of the subcommittee are attorney Turner Scott, Newport Fire Marshall Wayne Clark, Planning Board member Melissa Pattavina, businessman Terry Munnelly, and Rebecca McSweeney, the former chairperson of the Zoning Board.

The next meeting will be July 12 at the Public Library, at 6 p.m. It is open to the public.

“I don’t feel the city is enforcing enough,” Brooks said. “I don’t know if it is manpower or something else... Too many people are not permitting.”

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